Any time a game is released it comes with certain expectations. Whether they be great or small, those expectations can dictate the way many see the game, true or not. Grand Theft Auto IV comes with expectations that far surpass almost any game ever made. Some have called it “Game of the Year” and a less vocal group has said it’s anywhere from “just okay” to a “disappointment.”
GTA has always been a franchise predicated upon two things almost diametrically opposed: story and the ability to make your fun. The story in GTA IV is one of the best I’ve ever played. It, along with its characters, does borrow heavily from many story types that have become commonplace in movies and television, such as the omage to the Sopranos in the game, but Rockstar does a great job of weaving them into a run ride which always leaves you wanting to know what happens next. The ability to do anything you want in the game is something fans have always loved. I would say that other games, such as Crackdown, have surpassed GTA in its ability to just be a big playground and that aspect just doesn’t seem worthwhile with such a good story to enjoy.
Needed improvements, in the form of a more detailed and helpful map and better shooting, as well as multiplayer, a staple for most any big console release, have been added for this latest iteration. The world, while not as large but more densely populated than San Andreas, does require the new map system, which borrows heavily from Saints Row, to help navigate, especially on the run from the cops, and find your next objective.
The multiplayer, while certainly giving the players freedom to do anything, especially in Party Mode which allows for you and up to 15 friends to cause havoc all over Liberty City, does not stack up to other online multiplayer offerings in term of shooting, which is improved but certainly not on the level of a Halo or Call of Duty, and constant action. Skirmishes tend to begin and end rather quickly but can take much longer to initiate since the entire city is used for battle. These options can be changed but the ranked presets allow for a while between battles which can be unsatisfying. The multiplayer is fun in a novel way but that feeling soon wears off and players will most likely be moving on, or returning, to other online offerings.
While the game may not have a ton of longevity beyond the storyline, although completing everything in the game can take upwards of 80 hours, it certainly lives up to the expectations of a great story which can be played for 15 minutes or 3 hours and you’ll still want to know what comes next. Game of the Year honors are probably still up for grabs but you certainly will not be disappointed.